Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has not looked like himself as of late. His production has been way down -- he still only has one touchdown reception this season -- and his number of drops is increasing. It's alarming to see, as Johnson is not playing anything like he did last year, and he's especially not playing at a level that matches the new contract he got last offseason.
Even though Johnson only reached the end zone once through the first three weeks of the season, his numbers were still quite good. Johnson had an average of eight catches for 123 yards going into Week 4. That's when his numbers started to drop quite a bit, and really Johnson hasn't looked the same since that Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
There were two plays in the Vikings game involving Johnson that are worth highlighting. The first occurred in the second quarter when the Lions were down 13-3. They had the ball at the Minnesota 13-yard line, and Matthew Stafford threw a pass to Johnson in the end zone. It looked like the Lions were going to score a touchdown, but Johnson took a big hit and couldn't hang on to the ball. I wouldn't exactly describe this as a drop, but it's a play Johnson made at times last season. The Lions ended up settling for a field goal, and they went on to lose by a score of 20-13.
The second and more concerning play is when Johnson got hit in the head by Chad Greenway in the fourth quarter. Greenway was penalized and later fined for the hit, and Johnson looked pretty woozy after it happened. He was tested for a possible concussion on the sideline and returned to the game after not missing much time. A couple weeks later, Johnson admitted that he suffered a concussion on the hit and played through it.
In that game against the Vikings, Johnson finished with five catches for 54 yards. Two weeks later, after a bye, Johnson put together a strong game against the Philadelphia Eagles, catching six passes for 135 yards. In the two games since then, Johnson only managed three catches in each. He had only 34 yards against the Chicago Bears and only 46 yards last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Going back to the Vikings game, he has averaged only 4.25 catches and 67.25 yards in the Lions' last four games. What's more, he hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans.
If this were simply a case of defenses going all out to shut down Johnson, it wouldn't be all that concerning. There's no doubt that defenses are doing a better job of game planning against Johnson this year, but his lack of production goes beyond what opponents are doing to stop him. Just look at how many drops he's had this season. He is tied for third in the NFL with six drops through seven games, and some of those drops have been quite costly. Last week against Chicago, for example, Johnson was wide open and dropped a pass on third down on the game's opening drive. Had he caught that pass, Johnson likely would have gone for a big gain, and at the very least the Lions wouldn't have gone three-and-out.
This past Sunday against Seattle, Johnson had another bad drop. With the Lions driving and looking to score the go-ahead touchdown as the fourth quarter ticked down, Johnson was open in the back right corner of the end zone. It certainly wasn't an easy play by any means, as Jim Schwartz pointed out after the game, but it's one that Johnson can and should make. He didn't, though, dropping what could have been the game-winning touchdown. This drop didn't turn out to be nearly as costly since the Lions ended up scoring and winning anyway, but these types of mistakes are becoming far too common for somebody who is supposed to be one of the best players in all of the NFL.
It is important to note that Johnson isn't the only player on offense that has been struggling. The Lions as a whole this season have been pretty bad offensively, including Stafford. He got things turned around against Seattle, but that's only one game in a season filled some bad ones. Just as Stafford did on Sunday, Johnson could come out this week and snap out of his funk with a big day, but the important thing is to be consistently good.
What concerns me the most is the injury aspect to this whole situation. Johnson is dealing with a sore knee, and although he said it shouldn't be an excuse, he did seem to blame it for his drop against the Seahawks. From MLive:
"I just have to get my head around," Johnson said. "I didn't come out of my break like I wanted to. It's tough to stick my foot in the ground with my knee hurting, but that's not excuse."
Johnson has missed practice every now and then this season in order to rest injuries. Lately he has been dealing with a sore knee, and earlier in the season he had a sore foot. Also, as mentioned earlier, he apparently suffered a concussion against the Vikings. I don't know if it's one specific injury that is taking its toll on Johnson or perhaps all of them combined, but Johnson does look pretty banged up. Against Seattle, he didn't pop right up after taking a hit, and in general he looked a bit tentative at times. Considering his struggles started against the Vikings, one has to wonder if he's still dealing with the effects of that concussion. I don't necessarily mean that from a symptoms standpoint where he's got headaches. Rather, I do wonder if that big hit is the source of his tentativeness and increase in drops.
At the end of the day, Johnson's stats don't matter one bit as long as the Lions keep winning. However, it's not likely that they will keep winning on a consistent basis as long as he keeps dropping passes and can't find the end zone. It's not a big deal at all if the rest of the offense is taking what the defense is giving them, but at some point Johnson needs to start playing like the player who earned that mega contract. I don't care if injuries or the supposed "Madden Curse" are to blame; he needs to go back to being Megatron if the Lions want to even think about making a run at the playoffs this year.